Skip to Content


Syndicate content Drugs
Updated: 3 hours 41 min ago

Is Kratom Safe Enough for the Fight Against Opioids?

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 11:56
A new study says "yes," and finds it relieves anxiety and reduces negative moods, too.

A review of 57 years of international scientific evidence may help change the perception of kratom and restore its potential as a public health tool that deserves more research.

As the nation grapples for solutions to the opioid epidemic—now claiming more than 33,000 American lives each year—the potential of the psychoactive plant kratom to become a useful tool in the battle has been the subject of hot debate.

While some in the medical field and many in the general public attest to kratom’s ability to help curb opioid addiction and relieve pain, governmental agencies continue to warn against its dangers to mental health, citing links to psychosis and addiction. In 2016, the DEA briefly recommended criminalizing kratom possession and distribution, before withdrawing the proposal.

The study not only points to the potential benefits of kratom as a safer substitute for opioids, but also suggests the plant’s potential to reduce negative mood and relieve anxiety. Published online this week in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, it represents the largest systematic review of the scientific literature on kratom use and mental health.

“There is a lot of confusing information about kratom in the media that makes it difficult for clinicians and the public to make informed choices,” says lead author Marc T. Swogger, associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s psychiatry department. “This study clarifies that there is no good scientific basis for claims that kratom causes psychosis, suicide, or violence, and the available data do not indicate that kratom is a significant public health problem.”

Coauthor Zach Walsh, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia notes that current approaches to addressing the opioid epidemic are leaving large numbers of high-need individuals without effective treatment.

“We need to explore all options, and our findings suggest it’s time to carefully examine the potential of this ancient plant,” says Walsh.

3 harmful myths about the opioid epidemic

Swogger and Walsh reviewed the combined results of 13 studies conducted between January 1960 and July 2017, using data from 28,745 individuals.

“There is a clear need for more rigorous, well-controlled, prospective studies to support a sophisticated, nuanced understanding of the plant,” says Swogger. “But data across cultures indicated that kratom has a legitimate role to play in mitigating harms associated with opioid dependence. The bulk of the available research supports kratom’s benefits as a milder, less addictive, and less-dangerous substance than opioids, and one that appears far less likely to cause fatal overdose.”

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa; also known as krathom or ketum) is part of the coffee family and has been used medicinally for centuries in Southeast Asia to relieve symptoms of opioid withdrawal, to relieve pain, diarrhea, and cough, and increase stamina and energy. People chew raw leaves of the kratom plant, boil them to serve as tea, smoke, or vaporize them.

How 30 opioid pills for surgery turn into a habit

In recent years, kratom’s use has expanded beyond Asia, and its leaves, powders, gums, capsules, and extracts are widely accessed through retail outlets and the internet in North America and Europe.

“We need more and better research to be able to outline the risks and benefits of kratom in greater detail,” Swogger says. “Only through well-controlled studies can we elucidate kratom’s potential for good and harm, and give the public, policy makers, and health care professionals the information needed to make informed decisions.”

Source: University of Rochester

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.10.012



 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

These Are the Best Pot Products in 2017

Sat, 12/16/2017 - 13:28
Many old-time favorites are still the most popular with cannabis consumers.

/* >
Categories: News Feeds

The 3 States Best Positioned to Legalize Marijuana in 2018

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 15:39
Click here for reuse options! Next year should see more legal marijuana states and also the first state to legalize pot at the statehouse.

Election Day 2016 was a big day for marijuana. Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada all supported successful legalization initiatives, doubling the number of states to have done so since 2012 and more than quadrupling the percentage of the national population that now lives in legal marijuana states.

Marijuana momentum was high, national polling kept seeing support go up and up, and 2017 was expected to see even more states jump on the weed bandwagon. That didn't happen.

There are two main reasons 2017 was a dud for pot legalization: First, it's an off-off-year election year, and there were no legalization initiatives on the ballot. Second, it's tough to get a marijuana legalization bill through a state legislature and signed by a governor. In fact, it's so tough it hasn't happened yet.

But that doesn't mean it isn't going to happen next year. Several states where legislative efforts were stalled last year are poised to get over the top in the coming legislative sessions, and it looks like a legalization initiative will be on the ballot in at least one state—maybe more.

There are other states where legalization is getting serious attention, such as Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island, but they all have governors who are not interested in going down that path, and that means a successful legalization bill faces the higher hurdle of winning with veto-proof majorities. Similarly, there are other states where legalization initiatives are afoot, such as Arizona, North Dakota and Ohio, but none of those have even completed signature gathering, and all would face an uphill fight. Still, we could be pleasantly surprised.

Barring pleasant surprises, here are the three states that have the best shot at legalizing pot in 2018.

1. Michigan

Michigan voters shouldn't have to wait on the state legislature to act because it looks very likely that a legalization initiative will qualify for the ballot next year. The Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already completed a petition campaign and handed in more than 365,000 raw signatures last month for its legalization initiative. It hasn't officially qualified for the ballot yet, but it only needs 250,000 valid voter signatures to do so, meaning it has a rather substantial cushion.

If the measure makes the ballot, it should win. There is the little matter of actually campaigning to pass the initiative, which should require a million or two dollars for TV ad buys and other get-out-the-vote efforts, but with the Marijuana Policy Project on board and some deep-pocketed local interests as well, the money should be there.

The voters already are there: Polling has shown majority support for legalization for several years now, always trending up, and most recently hitting 58% in a May Marketing Resource Group poll.

2. New Jersey

Outgoing Gov. Chris Christie (R) was a huge obstacle to passage of marijuana legalization, but he's on his way out the door, and his replacement, Gov.-Elect Phil Murphy (D), has vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of taking office next month.

Legislators anticipating Christie's exit filed legalization bills earlier this year, Senate Bill 3195 and companion measure Assembly Bill 4872. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) has also made promises, vowing to pass the bill within the first three months of the Murphy administration, and hearings are set for both houses between January and March.

But it's not a done deal. There is some opposition in the legislature, and marijuana legalization foes will certainly mobilize to defeat it at the statehouse. It will also be the first time the legislature seriously considers legalization. Still, legalization has some key political players backing it. Other legislators might want to listen to their constituents: A September Quinnipiac poll had support for legalization at 59%.

3. Vermont

A marijuana legalization bill actually passed the legislature last year, a national first, only to be vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott (R) over concerns around drugged driving and youth use. Legislators then amended the bill to assuage Scott's concerns and managed to get the amended bill through the Senate, only to see House Republicans refuse to let it come to a vote during the truncated summer session.

But that measure, House Bill 511, will still be alive in the second year of the biennial session, and Gov. Scott has said he is still willing to sign the bill. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) is also on board, and the rump Republicans won't be able to block action next year.

Johnson said she will be ready for a vote in early January and expects the bill to pass then. Vermont would then become the first state to free the weed through the legislative process. 


Click here for reuse options!  Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

9 Ways Scientists Are Exploring the Body’s Relationship with Marijuana

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 12:12
Better living through endocannabinoid science.

In recent years, cannabis has been at the center of one of the most important developments in modern science, which has significantly advanced our understanding of health and disease.

Research on marijuana’s effects led directly to the discovery of a major biochemical signaling system in the human body – the endocannabinoid system – which plays a pivotal role in regulating a wide range of physiological processes that affect our mood, our blood pressure, our bone density, our metabolism, our intestinal fortitude, our energy level, how we experience pain, stress, hunger, and much more.

“By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance,” says Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam. “We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”

Described by Mechoulam as “a medicinal treasure trove,” cannabis contains more than 100 unique biologically active compounds known as “cannabinoids,” including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC causes the high that cannabis is famous for, CBD does not; both have important therapeutic attributes.

In addition to phytocannabinoids produced by the plant, there are endogenous cannabinoids – marijuana-like molecules – that occur naturally in the human brain and body. And there are also synthetic cannabinoids created by pharmaceutical researchers, who are developing new medicines that target the endocannabinoid system for therapeutic benefit.

Some of these novel synthetic compounds activate the same cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2 – in the brain and body that respond pharmacologically to THC and other cannabis components.1

Medical scientists are also experimenting with synthetic drugs designed to improve “endocannabinoid tone” without binding directly to cannabinoid receptors.

Here are nine strategies that scientists are currently pursuing in an effort to harness the healing potential of the endocannabinoid system:

1. Single-molecule plant cannabinoids

Dronabinol, marketed in pill form as Marinol, is a single-molecule THC extract combined with sesame oil. It got fast-tracked for approval by the Food and Drug Administration in 1985 in response to rising patient demand for medical marijuana.

Other THC preparations are also on the FDA’s radar, including Syndros, a liquid THC drug produced by Insys. But patented single-molecule THC is a poor substitute for whole plant cannabis.

Even though it is highly psychoactive and potentially dysphoric, pharmaceutical THC is legally accessible in all 50 states as a prescription medication.

Cannabidiol, unlike pure THC, is not yet legal in all 50 states. But CBD will soon become a legal pharmaceutical, as the FDA is poised to approve Epidiolex, a botanically derived anti-seizure medication produced by GW Pharmaceuticals. Epidiolex is pure CBD with a dash of cannabidivarin (CBDV), a “minor” cannabinoid that also has potent anti-epileptic properties.

Along with the imminent advent of pharmaceutical CBD, several R&D firms have begun to harvest single-molecule cannabinoids, such as CBDV, from a yeast substrate. As this biotechnology improves, drug developers and pharmacists will have access to numerous single-molecule cannabis compounds.

2. Synthetic cannabinoid analogs

Scientists have created synthetic analogs of plant cannabinoids for research purposes and for commercial sale and distribution. Nabilone, a synthetic THC analog, was developed by Eli Lilly and Co. as a treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Marketed under the trade name Cesamet, this synthetic cannabinoid is used as an adjunct therapy for chronic pain management in Canada and other countries. Clinical trials of Nabilone have indicated some effectiveness for fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, PTSD-related nightmares, irritable bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Researchers are using various synthetic analogs to investigate the biochemical pathways and molecular mechanisms of the endocannabinoid system. Some of these compounds (such as WIN55,212-2 and CP55,940) bind to both cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2 – much like THC. Other experimental drugs target only one type of cannabinoid receptor and not the other. 2

A cannabinoid agonist binds to a cell receptor and causes it to initiate a signaling cascade that modulates various physiological processes and protects neurons against toxic insults. A cannabinoid antagonist binds to a cell receptor and prevents it from signaling.

3. Synthetic cannabinoid antagonists

Cannabinoid CB1 receptors, which mediate the psychoactive effects of THC, are concentrated in the brain and central nervous system. When THC binds to CB1, it can make a person feel stoned – and hungry. The “munchies,” scientists confirmed, are linked to stimulation of CB1 receptors in areas of the brain that regulate hunger and satiety. If activated, CB1 receptors induce appetite; if blocked, they reduce it.

“SR141716,” a synthetic CB1 antagonist developed by the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis, was initially utilized as a research tool: By blocking CB1 and monitoring which functions were altered, scientists advanced their understanding of the endocannabinoid system.

Sanofi strategists believed they had invented the perfect diet pill, and they promoted SR141716 as an appetite suppressant in Europe. But the diet drug, sold as “Rimonabant,” proved to be too blunt an instrument. Before long, the synthetic CB1 antagonist was pulled from circulation because of dangerous side effects – high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, mood swings, depression, headaches, seizures, sleep disorders, and a heightened risk of suicide.

If nothing else, the CB1 antagonist debacle provided vivid evidence that a well-functioning endocannabinoid system is essential for good health.3

4. Peripherally restricted CB1 agonists

Cannabinoid CB1 receptors, the most prevalent protein receptors in the human brain, influence many neurological functions, including marijuana’s mood-altering effects. CB1 receptors are also expressed in the enteric nervous system (the gut), the liver, kidneys, heart and other peripheral organs.

Stimulating CB1 receptors can deliver significant therapeutic benefits, but THC’s psychoactivity limits its medical utility, according to Big Pharma catechism, which defines the CB1-mediated marijuana “high” as an adverse side effect that drug designers should avoid if they hope to win regulatory approval of their patented synthetic novelties.

So pharmaceutical researchers have created peripherally-restricted CB1 agonists (such as AZ11713908) that only activate CB1 receptors outside the central nervous system, but don’t cross the blood-brain barrier.

A peripherally restricted CB1 agonist won’t cause side effects such as disconcerting dysphoria or useless euphoria. But such a compound has never been approved for therapeutic use by the FDA.

5. Selective CB2 agonists

Scientists have been hot on the trail of another type of synthetic cannabinoid – a “selective CB2 agonist” – that will bypass the brain while acting on the peripheral nervous system, where CB2 receptors are concentrated. CB2 receptors regulate immune function, pain perception, and inflammation.

Tinkering with synthetic compounds (such as HU308 and JWH 133) that selectively stimulate CB2receptors raises the prospect of healing without the high because CB2 receptors are localized primarily outside the brain and thus do not induce psychoactivity.

Cannabinoid researchers have their eyes on the ultimate prize, the pharmaceutical Holy Grail – a non-addictive painkiller bereft of adverse side effects. Animal experiments focusing on the CB2 receptor initially showed promise.

Thus far, however, drug companies have not been able to synthesize clinically effective CB2-selective compounds, though not for lack of trying. “If drug discovery is a sea, then CB2 is a rock that is surrounded by shipwrecked-projects,” remarked Italian scientist Giovanni Appendino.

6. Water-soluble cannabinoids

In their natural form, plant cannabinoids and endocannabinoids are oily, hydrophobic substances that don’t dissolve in water. But these lipid molecules can be structurally altered so that they become water soluble without diminishing their therapeutic attributes.

Scientists have developed several ways of synthesizing water-compatible derivatives of THCand other cannabinoids that are more bioavailable and thus potentially more potent than their oily, naturally-occurring counterparts.

The first water-soluble version of THC was created in 1972. Subsequent research found that water-friendly cannabinoid derivatives can lower intraocular pressure in rabbits. A water-soluble cannabinoid ester, “O-1057,” exhibited stronger analgesic properties than THC in preclinical experimentation.

Internet retailers are claiming to sell water-soluble CBD formulated as a nanoemulsion. Pure CBD delivered via nanotechnology is supposed to provide exceptionally high bioavailability and remedial effect compared to a hydrophobic CBD oil extract.

But a CBD isolate typically requires a much higher dose for therapeutic efficacy than a whole plant CBD-rich concentrate – and this factor may cancel out the alleged advantages of nanoemulsified single-molecule CBD.

7. Allosteric cannabinoid receptor modulators

Because direct, full-on stimulation of cannabinoid receptors in the brain may trigger undesirable psychoactive effects, scientists have developed synthetic compounds that change the shape of the CB1 receptor and influence how it signals without causing a THC-like high. These compounds, known as allosteric modulators, can either amplify or decrease a receptor’s ability to transmit a signal.

A “positive allosteric modulator” increases the potency and/or efficacy of CB1 receptor activation by anandamide and 2AG (the two main endogenous cannabinoids), thereby boosting the protective effects of the endocannabinoid system.

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have synthesized a positive allosteric modulator of CB1to treat pain and neurological disorders. When researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University tested this experimental drug (“ZCZ011”) on mice, it reduced inflammatory pain by magnifying the CB1 receptor’s response to anandamide.

But allosteric effects are rarely consistent across species, which significantly impedes drug development in this area.4

8. Inhibitors of endocannabinoid metabolizing enzymes

Medical scientists are experimenting with synthetic designer drugs to enhance endocannabinoid tone without binding directly (or allosterically) to cannabinoid receptors.

Pharmacological augmentation of endocannabinoid signaling can be achieved by inhibiting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and/or monoglycerol lipase (MAGL), the catabolic enzymes that break down the brain’s own marijuana-like molecules, anandamide and 2AG, respectively.

Simply put, less FAAH and MAGL means more anandamide and 2AG, resulting in greater cannabinoid receptor activity throughout the body. Drugs that suppress endocannabinoid-metabolizing enzymes indirectly boost cannabinoid receptor signaling, causing a natural high without the vivid psychoactive effects associated with synthetic and plant-based CB1 agonists.

Preclinical research suggests that indirect modulation of endocannabinoid signaling could become a treatment option for various inflammatory conditions and stress-related disorders. FAAH and MAGLinhibition have been shown to ease pain, anxiety, colitis, hypertension, opiate withdrawal, diarrhea and arthritis in animal models.

While drug developers investigate synthetic FAAH-inhibitors (such as URB597) and MAGL-inhibitors (such as JZL 184), one need look no further than the kitchen spice rack for phytonutrients that regulate endocannabinoid tone by inhibiting the same catabolic enzymes. Nutmeg, one of many culinary spices that interact with the endocannabinoid system, inhibits the breakdown of both anandamide and 2AG, the brain’s own marijuana.

9. Endocannabinoid reuptake inhibitors

Another way to augment endocannabinoid tone entails delaying the reuptake of anandamide and 2AG. Scientists have synthesized reuptake inhibitors (such as AM404) that target transport molecules known as fatty acid binding proteins. These membrane-penetrating fatty acid binding proteins facilitate the intracellular transport and reuptake of endogenous cannabinoids.

By blocking access to these critical transport molecules, synthetic reuptake inhibitors increase endocannabinoid levels in the brain’s synapses. This results in heightened cannabinoid receptor 

signaling and endocannabinoid-induced protective effects.

THC and CBD also inhibit endocannabinoid reuptake. Enhancing endocannabinoid tone via reuptake inhibition may be a key mechanism whereby plant cannabinoids confer protective effects against seizures and neurodegeneration, as well as many other health benefits.

Fool’s gold?

Despite repeated setbacks, the possibility of healing without the high persists as an idée fixe among cannabinoid scientists and pharmaceutical researchers.

The lack of success with selective CB2 agonists, peripherally restricted CB1 agonists, allosteric modulators, CB1 antagonists and other non-euphoric cannabinoids underscores the challenges and limitations of synthetic, monomolecular medicine that targets a single protein receptor while forsaking whole plant synergies.

Synthetic CBD analogs are also in development. By tweaking the mother molecule and removing, adding or editing a molecular side chain, pharmaceutical researchers hope to create a marketable compound that is more potent and more effective than botanical CBD.

But a CBD isolate is not inherently superior to a whole plant CBD-rich extract. Preclinical studies that compare the efficacy of single-molecule CBD and full spectrum CBD-rich oil concentrates indicate that CBDsolo is effective only at precise, high doses – whereas whole plant CBD-rich extracts have a much wider and safer therapeutic window and are effective at significantly lower doses. Problematic drug interactions are also much likelier with high dose single-molecule CBD.

Regulatory policy should not privilege single-molecule meds over full spectrum cannabis remedies. Patients are best served by having access to a wide range of cannabinoid-based therapeutic options, including artisanal whole plant preparations and synthetic isolates, if and when they become available.

Martin A. Lee is the director of Project CBD and the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific.


  1. Only four cannabis compounds bind directly to either one or both cannabinoid receptors. THC activates CB1 and CB2. Cannabinol (CBN), a THC breakdown component, activates the CB1 receptor, though with less potency than THC. Tetrahydracannabivarin (THCV), the propyl variant of THC, binds to both cannabinoid receptors, activating CB2 while blocking CB1. And beta caryophyllene, an aromatic terpene found in many cannabis strains, green leafy vegetables, and common kitchen spices, activates CB2. Other cannabinoids, including CBD, interact with the endocannabinoid system indirectly without binding like lock and key to a cannabinoid receptor.
  2. Developed as a research tool to study that endocannabinoid system, JWH-018 is a synthetic cannabinoid compound that activates the CB1 receptor but not CB2. After the formula for this potent CB1 agonist was published in the scientific literature, JWH-018 surfaced as a street drug known as “Spice” or “K2.” Media accounts typically mischaracterize Spice as “synthetic marijuana.”
  3. U.S. government scientists have not given up entirely on Rimonabant. The fact that this compound blocks the euphoric effects of cannabis is a big plus to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has sponsored research on utilizing CB1 blockers to treat various addictions, including “cannabis dependence.”
  4. Canadian scientists have identified CBD as a “negative allosteric modulator” of the CB1 receptor based on in vitro research. This means that CBD, when administered in combination with THC, will alter the shape of the CB1 receptor in a way that weakens its binding affinity for THC. As a negative allosteric modulator of CB1, CBD lowers the ceiling on THC’s psychoactivity, which might be why people don’t feel as high when using CBD-rich cannabis as compared to a THC-infused product.

• Han S, Thatte J, Buzard DJ, Jones RM. Therapeutic utility of cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB(2)) selective agonists. J Med Chem. 2013 Nov 14;56(21):8224-56. PubMed PMID: 23865723.
• Ignatowska-Jankowska BM, Baillie GL, Kinsey S, Crowe M, Ghosh S, et al. A Cannabinoid CB1 Receptor-Positive Allosteric Modulator Reduces Neuropathic Pain in the Mouse with No Psychoactive Effects. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 Dec;40(13):2948-59. PubMed PMID: 26052038; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4864630.
• Mitjavila J, Yin D, Kulkarni PM, Zanato C, Thakur GA, et al. Enantiomer-specific positive allosteric modulation of CB<sub>1</sub> signaling in autaptic hippocampal neurons. Pharmacol Res. 2017 Nov 20;PubMed PMID: 29158048.
• O’Hearn S, Diaz P, Wan BA, DeAngelis C, Lao N, et al. Modulating the endocannabinoid pathway as treatment for peripheral neuropathic pain: a selected review of preclinical studies. Ann Palliat Med. 2017 Aug 31;PubMed PMID: 29156899.
• Pertwee RG, Gibson TM, Stevenson LA, Ross RA, Banner WK, et al. O-1057, a potent water-soluble cannabinoid receptor agonist with antinociceptive properties. Br J Pharmacol. 2000 Apr;129(8):1577-84. PubMed PMID: 10780961; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1572002.
• Schindler CW, Scherma M, Redhi GH, Vadivel SK, Makriyannis A, et al. Self-administration of the anandamide transport inhibitor AM404 by squirrel monkeys. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2016 May;233(10):1867-77. PubMed PMID: 26803499; NIHMSID: NIHMS754451; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4846479.
• Wasilewski A, Misicka A, Sacharczuk M, Fichna J. Modulation of the endocannabinoid system by the fatty acid amide hydrolase, monoacylglycerol and diacylglycerol lipase inhibitors as an attractive target for secretory diarrhoea therapy. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2017 Aug;68(4):591-596. PubMed PMID: 29151076.
• Yu XH, Cao CQ, Martino G, Puma C, Morinville A, et al. A peripherally restricted cannabinoid receptor agonist produces robust anti-nociceptive effects in rodent models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Pain. 2010 Nov;151(2):337-44. PubMed PMID: 20696525.</

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Sessions Wrong About Drugged Driving

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 11:59
The attorney general claimed there were more traffic deaths from drugs than alcohol last year. But the reports he cited don't back him up.



Sessions Wrong About Drugged Driving

By Vanessa Schipani – Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that more car accidents were "caused" by drugs than alcohol for the first time in 2016. ... difficult to prove a person is under the influence of drugs than alcohol while driving. Unlike alcohol, testing positive for a drug - marijuana in particular - doesn't prove intoxication. Marijuana can ...

/* >

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Texas Cops Let Handcuffed Man on LSD Pound His Head 50 Times Before Dying

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:38
And then they tried to cover up their negligence.

Police officers watched an 18-year-old Texas man undergoing a bad trip on LSD bang his head repeatedly but did nothing to stop him before he died — and then tried to prevent the man’s parents from finding out what happened.

Mesquite police found Graham Dyer pounding his head on the ground outside a middle school Aug. 13, 2013, and he died the following day in police custody, reported the Austin American-Statesman.

Witnesses reported seeing Dyer ramming his head into a building earlier, and a friend told police the young man was experiencing a negative reaction after taking psychedelic drugs.

Dyer was handcuffed and loaded into the back of a police car, where he continued pounding his head into any available surface 19 times.

Halfway to the jail, police said they pulled over and tried to calm Dyer down — and one officer shocked him on the testicles with a Taser.

The police continued driving Dyer to jail, without a medical observation and without using additional restraints — and he banged his head against the patrol car’s interior another 27 times.

Offices unloaded Dyer — his hands cuffed and his legs bound — onto the floor at the city jail, where they then watched him bang his head against a concrete pad.

Despite watching Dyer pound his head about 50 times while in their custody, police didn’t alert jail staff or call for a medical evaluation at the jail.

A guard noticed Dyer unresponsive in his cell about two hours later, and he died the following day at a Dallas hospital.

His death was ruled an accident due to self-inflicted blunt-force trauma.

Dyer’s parents filed a fatal medical negligence lawsuit, alleging that officers used excessive force and ignored their son’s medical needs.

The suit also notes several inconsistencies in the initial police reports.

Kathy and Robert Dyer’s efforts to seek justice for their son has been thwarted at nearly every turn by the police department’s refusal to turn over records related to the young man’s death.

Police cited a Texas law stating law enforcement agencies aren’t required to release records in cases that don’t result in a conviction, and the city argued those records could be withheld because Dyer had died before his case could be heard.

Without those documents, the couple’s initial lawsuit was quickly dismissed.

State lawmakers failed to pass a bill this year that would have closed that loophole, the American-Statesman noted.

The Dyers were finally able to obtain videos from the arrest after asking the FBI to intervene, and while federal investigators decided not to bring a civil rights case against Mesquite police, the couple asked to see the records they reviewed.

Those came two years after their son’s death, and the newspaper’s reporting on those videos and other documents resulted in a new lawsuit that has been allowed to proceed.

The Dallas County District Attorney also found sufficient evidence to file criminally negligent homicide charges against Mesquite officers for shocking Dyer in the testicles and failing to restrain the disoriented man — but the three-year statute of limitations had already passed.

All of those officers continue to work for Mesquite police.


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

THC Could Keep HIV Patients Mentally Sharp

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 11:37
Compounds in marijuana act as anti-inflammatory agents. That's a good thing.

Researchers have found that a chemical in marijuana, called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, could potentially slow the process of mental decline that affects up to 50 percent of HIV patients.

“It’s believed that cognitive function decreases in many of those with HIV partly due to chronic inflammation that occurs in the brain,” says Norbert Kaminski, director of the Institute for Integrative Toxicology at Michigan State University and lead author of the study, which appears in the journal AIDS.

“This happens because the immune system is constantly being stimulated to fight off disease,” Kaminski says.

Kaminski and his coauthor, Mike Rizzo, a graduate student in toxicology, discovered that the compounds in marijuana were able to act as anti-inflammatory agents, reducing the number of inflammatory white blood cells, called monocytes, and decreasing the proteins they release in the body.

“This decrease of cells could slow down, or maybe even stop, the inflammatory process, potentially helping patients maintain their cognitive function longer,” Rizzo says.

The two researchers took blood samples from 40 HIV patients who reported whether or not they used marijuana. Then, they isolated the white blood cells from each donor and studied inflammatory cell levels and the effect marijuana had on the cells.

“The patients who didn’t smoke marijuana had a very high level of inflammatory cells compared to those who did use,” Kaminski says. “In fact, those who used marijuana had levels pretty close to a healthy person not infected with HIV.”

Kaminski has studied the effects of marijuana on the immune system since 1990. His lab was the first to identify the proteins that can bind marijuana compounds on the surface of immune cells. Up until then, it was unclear how these compounds, also known as cannabinoids, affected the immune system.

HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, infects and can destroy or change the functions of immune cells that defend the body. With antiretroviral therapy—a standard form of treatment that includes a cocktail of drugs to ward off the virus—these cells have a better chance of staying intact.

Yet, even with this therapy, certain white blood cells can still be overly stimulated and eventually become inflammatory.

“We’ll continue investigating these cells and how they interact and cause inflammation specifically in the brain,” Rizzo says.

“What we learn from this could also have implications to other brain-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s since the same inflammatory cells have been found to be involved,” he adds.

Knowing more about this interaction could ultimately lead to new therapeutic agents that could help HIV patients specifically maintain their mental function.

“It might not be people smoking marijuana,” Kaminski says. “It might be people taking a pill that has some of the key compounds found in the marijuana plant that could help.”

Source: Sarah Derouin for Michigan State University

Original Study DOI: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001704


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

So... What Is Trump Doing About the Opioid Crisis?

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 11:31
Faced with the worst drug crisis in U.S. history, the president looks boldly backward.



/* >  Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

For-Profit Medical Companies Are Making Tons of Money Taking Poor People's Blood

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 15:10
Click here for reuse options! Donors hope to get $30 a pop for their plasma, but sometimes they aren't even paid what they're promised.

Here’s another example of wealthy corporations sucking poor people dry—literally. While many good samaritans donate blood or bone marrow out of good will, others sell their bodily fluids on a biweekly basis just so they can make ends meet. Multimillion-dollar medical companies know this, and eagerly take advantage. The for-profit plasma donation industry has been quietly targeting poor Americans for decades, and sometimes, the donors aren’t even paid what they’re promised.

Plasma is used to manufacture medicines that help people with diseases like blood-clotting and immune deficiency disorders. According to ABC, 94 percent of the plasma used internationally comes from the U.S. Four out of 5 American plasma centers are located in poorer neighborhoods around the country, and are frequented mainly by poor people who need to supplement their income with the extra money they receive from donating. These donors receive $30 to $40 per donation on average. Compare that to the biotech companies that turn a profit from the plasma, estimated to be a $19.7 billion global industry.

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, who wrote in a piece for the Atlantic that he donated plasma to pay his rent one month, explains how for-profit plasma companies are well aware they are making money off of poor donors. He writes, “the number of centers in the United States ballooned during the Great Recession, with 100 new centers opening and total donations leaping from 12.5 million in 2006 to more than 23 million in 2011.”

Some reports show that donors who frequent these for-profit plasma donation centers don’t end up being paid the amount they were promised.

At this point big business is stealing blood from the poor through plasma centers. They say they'll pay blood donors (in poor areas) but do so on debit cards with high fees. Actual blood money.

— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) December 8, 2017

As one plasma donor wrote in a complaint on RipoffReport:

“Bio life plasma Mankato pays $20 the first donation of the week and 50 for the second[. T]he problem is you can't get to all your money because of the car[d] that they use to pay you is in $10 increments which no ATMs around have so therefore you have to pay every time you use the stupid card when you happen to have a week where it's off also they charge You a monthly fee just for having the card therefore if you do get a $50 donation and are able to take it out for whatever reason you have overdraft on said card so therefore you can't get your money you have to use their card and guess what they make money off of it these people are bloodsucking vampires.”

Wellington confirms this unfair payment process: "'Plassers' [donors] receive payments on a special debit card that extracts a surcharge whenever they use it.”

It’s a cruel move for people who come to plasma donation centers as a last resort. One donor told ABC, “I donate specifically for the money because I work a minimum wage job. I work as a cashier and a stocker. I used to work as a repair technician for 14 bucks an hour, so I’m used to more than what I’m getting.”

Another donor in Kansas City who has a day job at Burger King said he makes donating a regular part of his routine. “I go Fridays and Sundays. Right arm I use Friday. Other I use Sunday. I switch up every time.”

Not everyone in the health industry is a fan of for-profit plasma. The Atlantic writes, “Hospitals, Red Cross units, and nonprofit agencies relying on voluntary donations reject the plasma center model because cash incentives for whole blood may give donors an incentive to lie [about their health histories], heightening risks of a tainted supply. Such risks are higher overall for whole blood, too.”

One expert on the subject finds the practice notably creepy. “For a majority of people, apparently, it’s relatively safe. We really don’t know the long-term effects because it’s a relatively new phenomenon," Roger Kobayashi, a clinical professor of immunology at UCLA, told ABC. However, he said that what used to be “a simple gift of life has now evolved into a multi-national, highly profitable corporate enterprise.”

“What was once an act of altruism has now evolved into an act of necessity or desperation,” Kobayashi said.

The Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association said in a statement to ABC News, "Source plasma donation is safe and is highly regulated. Donors must meet criteria defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and voluntary industry standards. Healthy, committed donors are the foundation of plasma-derived therapies."

Yet if donors are desperate enough, there’s no way to monitor the possibility that they’ll lie about their medical history.

The plasma industry has a surprisingly shady history. In the '60s and '70s, the Atlantic writes, for-profit plasma companies used to source donors from prisons, sometimes paying them just $5 per donation to cut costs. As a result, many people got sick. According to the Atlantic, “Roughly 50 percent of American hemophiliacs contracted HIV from bad plasma-based pharmaceuticals (a much higher infection rate than that suffered by gay men at the time).”

One plasma donor told the Atlantic, “Hearing all this, I never want to walk into those places again.”

Click here for reuse options!  Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Looking Back: The Biggest Domestic Drug Policy Stories of the Past 20 Years

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 13:26
Click here for reuse options! Progress has been made on a number of fronts, but the war on drugs still grinds on.

As the Drug War Chronicle marks the publication of its 1,000th issue (with yours truly having authored 863 of them going back to 2000), we reflect on what has changed and what hasn't in the past couple of decades. This piece recounts our domestic drug policy evolution in the US; a companion piece looks at the international picture.

A lot has happened. We've broken the back of marijuana prohibition, even if we haven't killed it yet; we've seen medical marijuana gain near-universal public acceptance; we've seen harm reduction begin to take hold; we've fought long and hard battles for sentencing reform—and even won some of them.

But it hasn't all been good. Since the Chronicle began life as The Week Online With DRCNet back in 1997, more than 30 million people have been arrested for drugs, with all the deleterious consequences a drug bust can bring, and despite all the advances, the drug war keeps on rolling. Serious progress has been made, but there's plenty of work left to do. 

Here are the biggest big-picture drug stories and trends of the past 20 years.

1. Medical Marijuana

It was November 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, five years after San Francisco became the first city in the country to pass a medical marijuana measure, thanks in large part to the efforts of activists who mobilized to make its use possible for AIDS patients. Two years later, Alaska, Oregon and Washington came on board, and three years after that, Hawaii became the first state to allow it through the legislative process. Now, 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico allow for the use of medical marijuana, and public support for medical marijuana reaches stratospheric levels in polls.

But the battle isn't over. The federal government still refuses to officially recognize medical marijuana, potentially endangering the progress made so far, especially under the current administration, efforts to reschedule marijuana to reflect its medical uses remain thwarted, some of the more recent states to legalize medical marijuana have become perversely more restrictive, and in some of the more conservative states, lawmakers attempt to appease demands for medical marijuana legalization by passing extremely limited CBD-only laws.

2. Marijuana Legalization: In the War on Weed, Weed is Winning

Twenty years ago, pot wasn't legal anywhere, and Gallup had public support for legalization at a measly 25 percent. A lot has changed since then. It took repeated tries, but beginning in 2012, states started voting to free the weed, with Colorado and Washington leading the way, Alaska and DC coming on board in 2014, and California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada joining the ranks last year. Now, about a fifth of the country has legalized weed, with more states lining up to do so next year, including most likely contenders Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Now, Gallup has support for legalization at 64 percent nationwide, with even a slight majority (51 percent) of Republicans on board. The only demographic group still opposed to pot legalization is seniors, and they will be leaving the scene soon enough. Again, the battle is by no means over. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and congressional efforts to change that have gone nowhere so far. But it seems like marijuana has won the cultural war, and the rest is just cleaning up what's left of the pot prohibition mess.

3. Marijuana, Inc.: Rise of an Industry

State-legal marijuana is already a $10 billion dollar a year industry, and that's before California goes online next month. It's gone from outlaws and hippie farmers in the redwoods to sharp-eyed business hustlers, circling venture capitalists, would-be monopolists, and assorted hangers-on, from accountants, lawyers, and publicists to security and systems mavens, market analysts, and the ever-expanding industry press.

These people all have direct pecuniary interests in legal marijuana, and, thanks to profits from the golden weed, the means to protect them. Marijuana money is starting to flow into political campaigns and marijuana business interests organize to make sure they will continue to be able to profit from pot.

Having a legal industry with the wherewithal to throw its weight around a bit is generally, but not entirely, a good thing. To the degree that the marijuana industry is able to act like a normal industry, it will act like a normal industry, and that means sometimes the interests of industry sectors may diverge from the interests of marijuana consumers. The industry or some parts of it may complain, for instance, of the regulatory burden of contaminant testing, while consumers have an interest in knowing the pot they smoke isn't poisoned.

And getting rich off weed is a long way from the justice-based demand that people not be harassed, arrested, and imprisoned for using it. Cannabis as capitalist commodity loses some of that outlaw cachet, some ineffable sense of hipster cool. But, hey, you're not going to jail for it anymore (at least in those legal states).

4. The Power of the People: The Key Role of the Initiative Process

The initiative and referendum process, which lets activists bypass state legislatures and put issues to a direct popular vote, has been criticized as anti-democratic because it allows special interests to use an apathetic public to advance their interests, as both car insurers and tobacco companies have attempted in California. It also gets criticized for writing laws without legislative input.

But like any political tool, it can be used for good or ill, and when it comes to drug reform, it has been absolutely critical. When legislatures refuse to lead, or even follow, as has been the case with many aspects of drug policy, the initiative process becomes the only effective recourse for making the political change we want. It was through the initiative process that California and other early states approved medical marijuana; it was five years later that Hawaii became the first state where the legislature acted. Similarly, with recreational marijuana legalization, every state that has legalized it so far has done it through the initiative process; in no state has it yet made its way through the legislature, although we're hoping that will change next year.

And it's not just marijuana. The initiative process has also been used successfully to pass sentencing reforms in California, and now activists are opening the next frontier, with initiatives being bruited in California and Oregon that would legalize psychedelic mushrooms.

The bad news: Only 24 states have the initiative process. The good news: The ones that do lead the way, setting an example for the others.

5. The Glaring Centrality of Race

It took Michelle Alexander's 2010 publication of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness to put a fine point on it, but the centrality of race in the prosecution of the war on drugs has been painfully evident since at least the crack hysteria of the 1980s, if not going back even further to the Nixonian law-and-order demagoguery of the late 1960s and early '70s.

We've heard the numbers often enough: Blacks make up about 13 percent of the population and about 13 percent of drug users, but 29 percent of all drug arrests and 35 percent of those doing state prison time for drugs. And this racial disparity in drug law enforcement doesn't seem to be going away.

Neither is the impact racially biased drug law enforcement has on communities of color. Each parent behind bars leaves a family exploded and often impoverished, and each heavy-handed police action leaves a bitter aftertaste.

The drug war conveyor belt, feeding an endless number of black men and women into the half-life of prison, is clearly a key part of a system of racially oppressive policing that has led to eruptions from Ferguson to Baltimore. If we are going to begin to try to fix race relations in this country, the war on drugs is one of the key battlefronts. Thanks in part to Alexander's bestseller, civil rights organizations from the traditional to newer movements like Black Lives Matter have devoted increasing focus to criminal justice, including drug policy reform.

6. Harm Reduction Takes Hold

We don't think teenagers should be having sex, but we know they're going to, so we make condoms available to them so they can avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs. That's harm reduction. So is providing clean needles to injection drug users to avoid the spread of disease, making opioid overdose drugs like naloxone widely available so a dosing error doesn't turn fatal, passing 911 Good Samaritan laws to encourage and OD victims' friends to call for help instead of run away, and providing a clean, well-lit place where drug users can shoot or smoke or snort their drugs under medical supervision and with access to social service referrals.

Two decades ago, the only harm reduction work going on was a handful of pioneering needle exchanges, thanks to folks like Dave Purchase at the North American Syringe Exchange Network (founded in 1988), and early activists faced harassment and persecution from local authorities. But it was the creation of the Harm Reduction Coalition in 1993 that really began to put the movement on the map.

In this century, harm reduction practices have gained ground steadily. Now, 33 states and DC allow needle exchange programs to operate40 states and DC have some form of 911 Good Samaritan laws, and every state in the county has now modified its laws to allow greater access to naloxone.

The next frontier for American drug war harm reduction is safe injection sites, and on the far horizon, opiate-assisted maintenance. There is not yet a single officially sanctioned operating safe injection in the country, but we are coming close in cities such as Seattle and San Francisco. And let's not forget drug decriminalization as a form of harm reduction. It should be the first step, but that's not the world we live in, yet.

7. Sentencing Fever Breaks

Beginning in the Reagan years and continuing for decades, the number of prisoners in America rose sharply and steadily, driven in large part by the war on drugs. The phenomenon gained America infamy as the world's biggest jailer, whether in raw numbers or per capita.

But by early in the century, the fever had broken. After gradually slowing rates of increases for several years, the number of state and federal prisoners peaked around 2007 and 2008 at just over 1.6 million. At the end of 2015, the last year for which data is available, the number of prisoners was 1.527 million, down 2 percent from the previous year. And even the federal prison system, which had continued to increase in size, saw a 14 percent decline in population that year.

But most drug war prisoners are state prisoners, and that's where sentencing reform have really begun to make a difference. States from California to Minnesota to Texas, among others, enacted a variety of measures to cut the prison population, in some cases because of more enlightened attitudes, but in other cases because it just cost too damned much money for fiscal conservatives.

Current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions would like very much to reverse this trend and is in a position to do some damage, for instance, by instructing federal prosecutors to pursue tough sentences and mandatory minimums in drug cases. But he is hampered by federal sentencing reforms passed in the Obama era. Sessions may be able to bump up the number of people behind bars only slightly; the greater danger is that his policies serve as an inspiration for similarly inclined conservatives in the states to try to roll back reforms there.

8. The Rise (and Fall) of Opioids

In 1996, Purdue Pharma introduced Oxycontin to the market. The powerful new pain reliever was pitched to doctors as not highly addictive by a high-pressure company sales force and became a tremendous market success, generating billions for the Sackler family, the owners of the company. Opioid prescriptions became more common, and for many patients, that was a good thing.

Purdue Pharma's marketing push coincided with a push by chronic pain advocates—patients, doctors and others—to ease prescribing restrictions that had kept many patients in feasibly treatable pain. And which in many cases still do: A 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine found that while "opioid prescriptions for chronic noncancer pain [in the US] have increased sharply ... [29 percent of primary care physicians and 16 percent of pain specialists report they prescribe opioids less often than they think appropriate because of concerns about regulatory repercussions." As the report noted, having more opioid prescriptions doesn't necessarily mean that "patients who really need opioids [are] able to get them."

While it's popular to blame doctors and Big Pharma for getting so many pain patients addicted to opioids, that explanation is a bit too facile. Many of the people strung out today were never patients, but instead obtained their pain pills on the black market. Through a perverse system of incentives, people on Medicaid could obtain the pills by prescription for next to nothing, then resell them for $40 or $60 apiece to people who wanted them. Some pain management practices were on the cutting edge of relieving pain for patients who needed the help. But others were little more than shady pill mills, popping up in places like Ohio, Kentucky and Florida that would become the epicenter of the opioid epidemic within a few years.

When the inevitable crackdowns on pain pill prescribing came, legitimate prescribers, of course, got caught in the crossfire sometimes, especially those who served the poor or the patients who in the worst chronic pain. Their being targeted, or others reining in their prescribing practices, left many patients in the lurch again. And the closure of pill mills left addicted people in the lurch. But there was plenty of heroin to make up for the missing pills the addicted used to take. Mexican farmers have been happy to grow opium poppies for the American market for decades, and Mexican drug trafficking organizations know how to get it to market.

The whole thing has been worsened by the arrival of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid dozens of times stronger than pure heroin, which seems to be coming mostly from rogue Chinese pharmaceutical labs (although the Mexicans appear to be getting in on the act now, too).

And now we have a drug overdose crisis like the country has never seen before, with around 60,000 people estimated to die from overdoses this year, most of them from opioids (by themselves or in combination with alcohol and/or other drugs). The crisis is inspiring both admirable harm reduction efforts and an execrable turn to harsher punishments, while making things harder again for many pain patients. While many argue that the gentler response to this epidemic is because the victims are mainly white, I would suggest that argument pays short shrift to all the years of hard work advocates and activists of all ethnicities have spent creating more enlightened drug policies.

9. Policing for Profit: The Never-Ending Fight to Rein in Asset Forfeiture

Twenty years ago, pressure was mounting in Washington over abuses of the federal civil asset forfeiture program, just as it is now. Back then, passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) of 2000 marked an important early victory in the fight to rein in what has tartly described as "policing for profit." It was shepherded through the house by then Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican.

How times have changed. Now, with federal agents seizing billions of dollars each year through civil forfeiture proceedings and scandalous abuse after scandalous abuse pumping up the pressure for federal reform, the Republican attorney general is calling for more asset forfeiture. And Jeff Sessions isn't just calling for it; he has undone late Obama administration reforms aimed at reining in one of the sleaziest aspects of federal forfeiture, the Equitable Sharing program, although he is having problems getting Congress to go along.

In the years since CAFRA, a number of states have passed similar laws restricting civil asset forfeiture and directing that seized funds go into the general fund or other designated funds, such as education, but state and local police have been able to evade those laws via Equitable Sharing. Under that program, instead of seizing money under state law, they instead turn it over to the federal government, which then returns 80 percent of it to the law enforcement agency, not the general fund and not the schools.

This current setup, with its perverse incentives for police to evade state laws and pursue cash over crime, makes asset forfeiture reform a continuing battlefield at both the state and the federal levels. A number of reform bills are alive in the Congress, and year by year, more and more states pass laws limiting civil asset forfeiture or, even better, eliminating it and requiring a criminal conviction before forfeiture can proceed. Fourteen states have now done that, with the most recent being Connecticut, New Mexico and Nebraska. That leaves 36 to go.

10. Despite Everything, the Drug War Grinds On

We have seen tremendous progress in drug policy in the past 20 years, from the advent of the age of legal marijuana to the breaking of sentencing fever to the spread of harm reduction and the kinder, gentler treatment of the current wave of opioid users, but still, the drug war grinds on.

Pot may be legal in eight states, but that means it isn't in 42 others, and more than 600,000 people got arrested for it last year; down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12 percent over 2015.

It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007—just ahead of the peak in prison population—and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6 percent increase over 2015.

There are more options for treatment or diversion out of jail or prison, but people are still getting arrested. Sentencing reforms mean some people won't do as much time as they did in the past, but people are still getting arrested. And the drug war industrial complex, with all its institutional inertia and self-interest, rolls on. If we want to actually end the drug war, we're going to have to stop arresting people for drugs. That would be a real paradigm shift.

Click here for reuse options!  Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Want to Celebrate Legal Cannabis in California? Consider a Weed and Wine Tour

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 12:51
With recreational use legal in January, visitors can join trips matching cannabis with the more established grape-based legal high of the region.

The wine was pale garnet, with notes of smoke and blackberry giving way to a lingering, slightly tart, finish. One sip sent my head spinning.

But then this particular vintage was more potent than your usual Californian red. The grenache, from Know Label wines in Arroyo Grande on the central coast, is infused with cannabis flowers.

Plastic cups of wine were passed around along with joints as our party bus chugged over the Golden Gate bridge. Tupac’s California Love oozed from the speakers into an atmosphere as foggy as a San Francisco morning.

It was the first tour combining wine and weed in California, and the brainchild of Heidi Keyes and Michael Eymer, who run Colorado-based Cannabis Tours. This tour will officially launch in early 2018, when recreational cannabis use becomes legal in many areas of the state. Until then, a medical marijuana card is needed. But the new law means even international visitors will be able to buy cannabis, opening up a new world of tourism possibilities.

“There are so many other ways to use cannabis than to smoke it,” said Keyes, marijuana-leaf earrings jangling. “I think wine and weed can be a great combination in the right quantities.”

Others are following suit. Jordan Lichman, co-founder of Sea of Green Tours, is planning winemaker dinners in Sonoma, with “California cuisine, top wines and cannabis brands”.

Lisa Rogovin, who founded Edible Excursions food tours, has just launched a Curious Cannabis Salon, showcasing various high-end edible cannabis products in San Francisco.

Our tour began at the Oakland Cannabis Creative with a “mocktail” demonstration. Looking like a hipster let loose in a laboratory, bow-tied Andrew Mieure expertly sprinkled and pipetted various doses and strains into spiced apple drinks. His Denver-based company, Top Shelf Budtending, caters for private events, promoting “classy cannabis” and responsible use.

“You should ideally smoke before you drink,” said Mieure. He was on hand throughout the trip with tinctures and sniffing oils “to bring people back” if they got too high. “Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant, so the cannabis absorbs quicker into your bloodstream.”

The tour dropped in at the Betty Project, a San Francisco grow facility. Clutching glasses of sparkling (non-infused) wine, we peeped at plants bathing in chartreuse-green lights. Aromas of sage, eucalyptus and lemon verbena wafted from the drying room.

Our last stop was Donkey & Goat Winery in Berkeley, north of San Francisco. They don’t serve “green” wine – as cannabis-infused varieties are known – only red, white and orange.

Gloria, on the tour with her husband, sipped contentedly from a glass of pinot gris and nibbled on a breadstick: “Wine, cheese and weed. How can you complain?”

Visitors shouldn’t get the impression that from 1 January cannabis sales will be legal throughout the state: many city authorities have not yet agreed to issue licences, and Fresno and various counties have banned sales.

As we got back on the bus, Keyes surveyed the sea of serene faces. Some slumped in their seats, half dozing. Others mainlined Doritos or stared, button-eyed, as San Francisco’s skyline soared past the windows.

“If this was just a drinking tour, people would be wasted and throwing up or fighting by now,” said Keyes. Eyes shining, she added: “I mean, I love wine – and I love weed. It’s perfect.”

• The Wine and Weed tour costs $99pp,

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Water-Soluble THC Is Now A Thing And Edibles May Never Be The Same

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:51
Into microdosing? This is for you.

A guy out of Colorado believes he’s created a product that will disrupt the edibles industry: powdered THC and CBD that’s tasteless and dissolvable in just about anything.


Justin Singer came up with the idea after cutting a pot brownie into a million little pieces so his diabetic grandmother could have some without losing her mind, according to Westword. Now, his company, Stillwater Brands, sells a water-soluble product called Ripple, which can infuse pretty much any food or drink item you can think of, from soup to cookies to water.

In fact, according to Westword, Stillwater now offers infused instant coffee and teas with the same technology, with serving sizes ranging from 2.5 milligrams to 10 milligrams of CBD and THC.

The selling point of Ripple is that it doesn’t need fat to bond with, unlike cannabutter. Singer tells Westword the challenge right now is educating consumers. “It’s tough, because dispensaries don’t have a tea aisle. They’re not a Whole Foods. Right now, marijuana information filters down from heavy users to new consumers. So for a 100-milligram user, this probably isn’t for them.”

Singer ‘s ideal consumer? One who microdoses.

“Our product was created for grandmothers and working professionals in mind. Positive effects tend to come in lower doses unless you’re a medical patient. We’ve also seen a little interest in Ripple among active lifestyles — people integrating it into their workouts, adding it to their meals.”

“There’s a helluva lot of math involved in cannabutter.” Singer says. “We don’t expect to be the only ones on the block doing this.”


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

How Uruguay Makes Legal Marijuana Work

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:28
The South American country’s move to full legalization of cannabis has so far proved a success, especially for its 17,391 registered users

Every afternoon a long queue of people gathers outside a tiny neighbourhood pharmacy in Montevideo. The shop is so small that they can only be let in one at a time. It’s a slow process but the mostly young clients don’t seem to mind. They stand outside or sit on doorsteps chatting in groups of twos and threes as they wait their turn in the warm southern spring.

A chemist inside in a green medical coat asks them each to press their thumb on a fingerprint scanner. The electronic device is connected to a central government computer that will either authorise or deny the purchase of their allotted 10 weekly grams of legal marijuana. It is a state-controlled, high quality product guaranteed to provide excellent highs.

“On the street 25 grams of marijuana would cost you 3,000 pesos, that’s about $100 for something with probably a large amount of pesticide, seeds and stems,” says Luciano, a young buyer who is next in line. “But here the same amount would cost you only $30, and it comes in guaranteed, premium quality, thermosealed 5g packs.”

In July this year, tiny Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise the sale of marijuana across its entire territory.

“The most important thing has been the change of paradigm,” says Gastón Rodríguez Lepera, shareholder in Symbiosis, one of the two private firms producing cannabis for the government’s Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis. “Uruguay dived in at the deep end without too much international support. They said it wouldn’t work. Well, it’s working now.”

With a population of only 3.4 million, squeezed in between its two giant South American neighbours Brazil and Argentina (population 208 million and 43 million respectively), Uruguay has long been at the forefront of liberal policies not only in South America but worldwide.

A divorce law that allowed women to separate from their husbands simply by asking a court for permission was passed as far back as 1913. Abortion was legalised in 2012, with Uruguay the only country in Latin America to do so apart from Cuba.

Part of the reason for Uruguay’s liberal temperament is a longstanding separation of church and state in a region where the Catholic Church remains dominant. There is no official Christmas day on Uruguay’s state calendar. Most Uruguayans refer to the holiday by its government denomination of family day. Easter week is referred to as tourism week.

Uruguay’s switch to a legal marijuana market has not been without its hitches, however, notably the resistance of most pharmacists to act as outlets for the recreational marijuana (medical marijuana remains illegal in Uruguay).

Only 12 of the country’s 1,100 pharmacies have signed up so far to supply the 17,391 government-registered consumers served by the system, which explains the long queues outside. The low price and slim profit margin partly explain their reticence. “But the main problem is that banks have threatened to close the accounts of pharmacies selling marijuana,” said one chemist who sells marijuana in Montevideo, but who did not want to reveal his name for fear of such bank intervention.

Although sales of the drug have been legalised in various US states, they remain illegal at federal level, leading to a situation where most banks refuse to handle marijuana-related accounts anywhere in the world. Even now that sales in Uruguay have been completely legalised, the fear of running into trouble with the US federal authorities has become concrete.

“The problem with the banks was an unforeseen hitch,” says Eduardo Blasina, president of Montevideo’s cannabis museum, set in an old house in the artsy Palermo district of the capital city. “But these bumps will get smoothed out eventually.”

The potency of the original government-licensed marijuana also failed to satisfy consumers at the start. “The government made a mistake because the first batch they released to the market in July had a potency level of only 2% THC,” says Blasina.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis content. This is much lower than the levels found in legal recreational weed in US states like Colorado.

“The government quickly got the message and has now upped the content to 9% THC,” says the Montevideo pharmacist. A consumer himself, he adds: “I’ve tried it and I can assure you that it provides a most satisfactory experience.”

For those who would rather not buy their legal weed at a pharmacy, Uruguay’s marijuana law allows consumers to plant their own at home (up to six plants) or join special privately run “cannabis clubs” with a maximum of 45 members who are allowed to withdraw 40g per month from the club’s crop.

“The transformation of consumers has been astounding,” says Blasina. “They’ve gone from buying low-quality products from street dealers to becoming gourmet experts who compete with the crops at their clubs.”

Confident that pharmacists will eventually find a way to work round the refusal of banks to handle their accounts, Blasina is more worried about the ban on selling legal marijuana to visitors from abroad in a country where tourism keeps growing, partly due to Uruguay’s beautiful beaches, but also because of its growing reputation as a liberal haven in South America.

“Visitors arrive here hoping to enjoy freedom in one of the most liberal countries in the world, so they feel disappointed when they find out they can’t buy legal marijuana,” says Blasina. “They end up buying it on the street, which contradicts the whole point of the law, which is to cut traffickers out of the business.”

Blasina and others have started pressing the government for the passports of tourists to be stamped with a permit to purchase a small amount of marijuana during their stay. “A record number of visitors will arrive this summer and what will we say to them? Sorry, you can’t smoke?” he says.

There are ways round the problem, however. “The quality of the marijuana is so high that the 40 monthly grams permitted by the government far exceeds what I could smoke on my own,” says one Uruguayan who works with foreigners travelling here. “So I always have enough to share around with visitors.”


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Jeff Sessions Wants to Crack Down on Legal Marijuana—Will Congress Let Him?

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:46
UPDATED: Limits on federal pot prosecution just got a brief extension, but medical marijuana may still be at risk.

UPDATE: Congress gave the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment a temporary reprieve after this piece was originally published, extending protections until Dec. 22. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., responded by saying, "[T]wo weeks is not enough certainty," and adding, "Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs — and adult use — from federal interference."

In all the budget and tax negotiations frantically being hammered out on Capitol Hill, one small amendment that might get lost in the shuffle could have huge ramifications. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment was originally set to expire on Friday (see update above), which would open the door for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to do what he's been hinting he wants to: Launch a federal war on states that have partly or completely legalized marijuana use.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, originally passed as the the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in 2014, bars the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute people buying or selling medical marijuana in states that have legalized it. It's a popular bipartisan amendment that protects 46 states, but there have been concerns about whether it will be renewed after Sessions exerted pressure in May on Congress to let the amendment die.

Sessions argued that the DOJ's hands need to be untied when it comes to prosecuting marijuana dispensaries, "particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." There is, of course, no evidence that marijuana use is contributing to the opioid crisis and, in fact, there's a significant link between legalized medical marijuana and a decrease in opioid overdoses.

The amendment survived, despite Sessions' pressure, through a couple rounds of budget debate in Congress this year, but as Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice told Salon, "Every time, there’s sort of a dance around whether it will actually get cut this time or not." It’s reasonable to be at least "a little concerned," Grawert said, that Sessions' pressure will eventually convince congressional Republicans to dump the amendment. 

This will-they-or-won't-they game is why Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, and a bipartisan group of 24 other lawmakers have introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, which would prevent the federal government from prosecuting any marijuana users, growers or distributors who are in compliance with state laws.

“You have booming economies in several states, some of whom allow the recreational use of marijuana but many also just for medical purposes, and no real data linking that to a public safety problem," Grawert said, noting that the Brennan Center objects to using federal resources to prosecute people or break up thriving economies without any data to show that doing so would improve public safety.

In March, Sessions argued that marijuana use is "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction, making it clear that his priority was to aggressively prosecute marijuana users and distributors. He's been stymied by both the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and a memo issued by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole that discouraged the Justice Department from prosecuting people who were following state-level marijuana laws. The obvious concern here, however, is that Sessions would seize upon the first political opening available to reinvigorate the federal war on pot.


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

The Folks at Senior Centers Are Using a Lot of Marijuana

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:39
Older Americans are finding relief with medical marijuana.

The rise of marijuana as a prevalent recreational substance of choice exploded when today’s senior citizens were becoming adults, so many Boomers grew up accustomed to the herb. But what is surprising is how many of today’s older Americans have embraced cannabis as a medicine.

According to a recent study, the number of individuals living with two or more chronic conditions who used cannabis over the past year more than doubled.

According to Kaiser Health News, cannabis is used to manage diseases that usually strike in older age, pointing to an increasing desire to take a medication that has less side effects than traditional prescription drugs.

In a survey conducted by Eaze, a California cannabis delivery company, Baby Boomers are the fastest-growing demographic while Millennials are using less. According to the survey, Boomers purchased 25 percent more cannabis in 2016 than the previous year. Gen Xers purchases rose 8 percent; Millennials dipped 3 percent. Boomers, according to the report, spend 36 percent more per month on weed than Millennials.

In Albany, NY, a licensed medical marijuana grower will be targeting nursing homes to grow its customer base, the New York Daily News reported.

According to the story:

Etain, one of the five companies licensed by the state Health Department to grow and sell medical marijuana in New York, is reaching out to senior and long-term health care centers and offering to help their patients obtain medicinal pot.

The company already has struck a deal with a Bronx nursing home to provide medical marijuana to the residents. According to the Daily News, it is believed to be one of the first such arrangements in the state.

“We consider it a very vital of our strategy for outreach and building a customer base,” Hillary Peckham, Etain’s founder and chief operations officer told the Daily News. “It is really important because right now there really isn’t a demand for the product.”


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

"While We Wait, People Die:" Pastor and Ex-Addict Fight for Safe Drug Use Spaces

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 12:29
Needle exchange activist Shilo Jama has teamed with the Rev Pat Simpson to fight ODs in Washington state, but the pair face opposition from some corners

Shilo Jama, an activist and former drug addict, is used to being sworn at, spat at, and even threatened with death. As the head of what’s thought to be the US’s largest needle exchange, which has handed out 34 million syringes in the last 27 years, he has never shied away from controversy.

In the past, he has pushed legal boundaries by handing out crack and meth pipesand the opioid antidote naloxone. Now he’s embroiled in a bitter dispute over safe-use sites, where addicted people can take drugs openly with nurses on hand in case of overdose – and he has an unlikely ally: a Methodist pastor.

In response to the opioid abuse crisis, King County, which encompasses Seattle, has approved two such sites. Similar places operate in nine other countries, including Canada, Denmark and France. When they open, they will be the first legal facilities of their kind in the US.

But the decision has infuriated many in Seattle, who argue that they will encourage drug use and increase crime and public disorder, while not doing enough to get people into treatment. Nearly 70,000 people signed a petition calling for a public vote in an attempt to stop the sites. That move was overruled by a judge last month but an appeal is planned.

In the meantime, Jama, 42, who is a member of the county opioid addiction taskforce that recommended the sites, is fed up with waiting for them to open. Last year there were 332 deaths from drugs in King County, with two-thirds of those opioid-related overdoses.

Jama, executive director of the not-for-profit People’s Harm Reduction Alliance (PHRA) needle-swap programme, which operates out of a Methodist church in Seattle’s University District, said: “While we wait, people are going to die. I think every day of the folks who are dying needlessly while bigoted cowards yell and scream about hatred.”

Rumours have swirled that the organisation is planning an illegal site at the church, which also houses a childcare centre, a young adult shelter and meal programs.

Jama said he would only start one at the church if the county health department gave the green light.

“My opinion hasn’t changed. We want [safe-use sites] as part of the solution because people are dying. By any means necessary.”

Jama has the backing of the University Temple United Methodist church pastor, the Rev Pat Simpson, and the church’s board of trustees.

Simpson said: “We stand beside them. The PHRA has been with us in this building a long time. We’ve had time to learn that they are trustworthy, highly committed to their work and expanding services to meet unmet needs. For example, they started giving out Narcan [naloxone] before it was strictly officially permitted in order to equip people to reverse overdoses.”

Jama believes there should be several places for taking drugs safely across the city.

“A million-dollar facility is not a good idea. It’s too big, too much money. You just need a room in an existing facility where people can pop in and use. They need to be the price of a nurse and the paraphernalia. Super, super simple.”

Officials from Seattle-King County public health department said in a statement: “The independent safe consumption site proposed by the PHRA in Seattle’s University District is not part of our efforts. If the PHRA does establish a site, we will not have enforcement authority, except in the event that this particular facility becomes a threat to public health.”

Jama and Simpson’s stance is not popular in some quarters, and both have received some negative reaction.

But Simpson said the idea for a safe-consumption site had broad backing among her congregation. Their support of a harm reduction approach, focusing on safe use rather than abstinence, is a philosophical shift given that Methodism was a major organisation in the temperance movement that led to prohibition.

Simpson said: “When you look at the list of participants in the taskforce that recommended this and see the law enforcement representation there, the medical community, several layers of government, we’re part of a broad coalition that believes it’s the right thing to do.

“This is not some wildcat renegade effort. It’s well planned and it’s being done by knowledgeable people based on this long experience elsewhere. That’s why we have the confidence to do this and intend to brave the storm of whatever the opposition might be.”

She added: “We’re a congregation of people who appreciate science and are willing to look at the evidence and not just rely on gut reactions or public prejudice.”

Jama, who believes drugs should be legalised, says much of the opposition comes from fear and ignorance of nimbys (adherents to a “not in my backyard” view). “They have met a drug user or have had a drug user in their life that they have negative feelings about and they hypothesise that all drug users are like that. We are not a homogenised group of people.

“They have been very vile in their treatment of us. When I was on the streets, passersby called me disgusting and gross and spitted at me. I see them as no different to these people who are blinded by their own rage and hate.”

Seattle-born Jama, who spent time in foster care as a child, spoke of his own drug experiences. He tried magic mushrooms on a camping trip aged 13, began taking LSD in high school, and eventually ended up homeless with a heroin habit. He suffered a lot of trauma, he said, and felt a lot of anger.

The turning point came when his best friend died from an overdose in the mid-1990s. He volunteered at the needle exchange and found his vocation.

He also founded a drug users’ union, the Urban Survivors’ Union, which lobbies for alternative drug laws. He met his wife, a mental health worker whom he describes as “one of the best things in my life”, when she was helping out at the exchange.

Jama calls the 60 to 90 daily visitors to the exchange “my family”. They were all invited to his mermaid and unicorn-themed wedding reception, held in the alley next to Simpson’s church.

The PHRA now operates in eight locations, in Washington and Oregon. It has five employees and 250 volunteers, of which 51% have to be drug users.

“So many people come into the exchange with smiles – this is the only service that treats them with respect and dignity,” he said. “I say, ‘I love you just the way you are and I’m proud of you just the way you are,’ and some people look at me like I’m a crazy person, and other people give me big hugs.”

Jama still uses illegal drugs occasionally. Holding up his takeaway coffee cup, he points out that most people use some stimulant – whether caffeine, alcohol or illegal drugs.

He’s keen to stress that he is lobbying for the other proposals contained in the taskforce recommendations, as well as the safe consumption sites.

“We need to focus on mental health services and treatment on demand for folks who are in chaotic use. There is chaotic drug use and there is stable drug use. We want to keep people on stable drug use.”

Whether a safe-use room at the church will be part of that mission remains to be seen.

 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Why It’s Getting Easier for Marijuana Companies to Open Bank Accounts

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 12:17
Almost 400 banks and financial institutions are now serving the industry.

Editor's Note: This story was updated 12/7 to correct the year when medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Hawaii (it was 2017), and 12/6 to clarify comments made by Brian Smith, who said that many marijuana businesses were reluctant to open bank accounts because they were hesitant to enter a highly regulated system.

State and local officials in places that recently legalized marijuana are bracing for the arrival of a sector that largely runs on cash. They’re anxiously envisioning burglars targeting dispensaries and business owners showing up at tax offices with duffel bags full of money.  

But the marijuana industry’s banking problems may be more manageable than many officials realize.

Just ask Washington state, which last year successfully pushed almost all legal marijuana businesses to open bank accounts and pay their taxes with a check or other non-cash method. Or Hawaii, which earlier this year announced a “cashless” system for buying medical marijuana, reliant on a technology analogous to PayPal.

“We’re definitely seeing more businesses in the industry getting banked every day,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group. Despite the legal risk involved in serving the cannabis industry, almost 400 banks and credit unions now do, according to the U.S. Treasury — a number that has more than tripled since 2014.

That’s reassuring news for California, where sales of recreational pot start next month, as well as for Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, where voters approved recreational marijuana sales last year, and Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, where voters approved medicinal sales.

But the progress that has occurred in some legal markets remains fragile. The federal government still considers marijuana to be a dangerous, illegal drug. States can only permit marijuana sales — and financial institutions can only serve marijuana-related businesses — thanks to Obama-era guidelines that create wiggle room in federal law.

The Trump administration is rethinking those guidelines. “We’re looking at that very hard right now, we had a meeting yesterday and talked about it at some length,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a press conference last week. “It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and is subject to being enforced.”

Growing Access to Banking Services

Since the U.S. Treasury issued guidance on the issue in 2014, banks and credit unions have been able to do business with the marijuana industry without being prosecuted — so long as they monitor marijuana-related accounts closely to make sure they steer clear of Justice Department enforcement priorities, such as funding gang activity.

Local institutions that are chartered at the state level have been particularly willing to work with the industry.

In Oregon, where sales of recreational marijuana began in 2015, Salem-based Maps Credit Union decided to serve marijuana businesses after audits revealed some of its members were already in the industry. “It didn’t really square with our philosophy to kick members out,” said Shane Saunders, chief experience officer.  

Taking on the new line of business required investments in staff, anti-money laundering software, and extra security at bank branches, said Rachel Pross, the credit union’s chief risk officer. Under the current federal guidance, Maps has to send a report on each marijuana-related account to the U.S. Treasury every 90 days, plus a report each time an account experiences a cash transaction of over $10,000.

Maps staff run background checks on marijuana-related business owners who want to open an account. They conduct regular, in-person inspections of the businesses whose accounts they manage, and they require business owners to share their quarterly financial statements.

Dispensaries that bank with Maps make most of their sales in cash, because credit- and debit-card processors typically won’t touch marijuana money. As of October, the credit union had handled $140 million in cash deposits from 375 marijuana-related accounts in 2017, Pross said. Some companies hold multiple accounts.

In neighboring Washington, where recreational marijuana sales began in 2014, several financial institutions are openly working with the industry.

Washington has helped banks and credit unions monitor marijuana-related customers by collecting and publishing extensive data on monthly sales and legal violations to the liquor and cannabis control board’s website.   

State regulators last year nudged marijuana licensees to open desposit accounts, aware that banking services were available and worried that cash-based businesses threatened public safety.

“We gave them a deadline at some point in 2016,” said Brian Smith, communications director for the liquor and cannabis board: Either prove you can’t get a bank account, or the state won’t accept tax payments in cash.

Some marijuana businesses weren’t using banks not because services weren’t available, Smith said, but because they didn’t want the additional scrutiny. Today, most businesses have accounts and about 99 percent of taxes are paid in a form other than cash, he said. 

Some cash-reliant businesses complained about bank fees, which are typically higher for marijuana-related accounts than accounts that require less monitoring. Regulators were unsympathetic. “It’s a cost of doing business in this marketplace,” Smith said.

John Branch, a Seattle-based lawyer who owns a dispensary, says that fees are typically reasonable for small businesses like his. The fees he pays as a credit union member are in the hundreds of dollars, he said. “In the scheme of what it costs to run a marijuana business, it’s de minimis.”  

A National ‘Cashless’ Model?

In some states, such as Alaska and Hawaii, regulators say they’re not aware of any credit unions or banks that currently serve the industry. Recreational marijuana sales began in Alaska in 2015, and medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Hawaii in 2017.

But Hawaii is pioneering a workaround.  

Regulators have given a Colorado-based credit union permission to serve the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries. The credit union, in turn, has partnered with CanPay, an app that allows patients to transfer money from their bank accounts directly to the dispensary’s account.

This new cashless system enables the state to focus on patient, public and product safety while we allow commerce to take place. This solution makes sense,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, said in a statement announcing the system in September.

Hawaii doesn’t require dispensaries to use CanPay or become members of the credit union, according to the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Currently, three of the state’s four open dispensaries use the app, said Iris Ikeda, Hawaii’s state commissioner of financial institutions.   

“We are calling this a temporary solution,” Ikeda said. Policymakers hope that eventually a state-chartered bank or credit union will step in to serve the marijuana industry, she said.

State and local officials in other parts of the country are watching Washington and Hawaii closely and asking if their strategies might work elsewhere.

The California Treasurer’s office, facing the January 1 launch of what’s projected to be a $7 billion legal cannabis industry, has pointed to Washington’s data-sharing system as a possible model to emulate. But the Golden State can’t copy Washington’s centralized system exactly, because localities and several state agencies will share responsibility for supervising California’s marijuana businesses.

The California State Association of Counties is working on building a website that would publish locally collected information on licensees. Cara Martinson, the federal affairs manager for the nonprofit association, says the database would help cities and counties audit licensed businesses and keep track of their transactions, as well as giving more information to banks and credit unions.

Ikeda says that it may be easier to introduce electronic payment processing to new marijuana markets than long-established ones, and easier to get medical marijuana patients to sign up to use the app than recreational users, who might be leery of giving their names and financial information to a third-party payment processor.

Seattle dispensary owner Branch notes that stores with ATMs make money when they dispense cash, and store owners may not embrace an electronic payment system that instead will cost them 2 percent of each transaction, as CanPay’s service does.

A change in federal law would solve the cannabis industry’s banking problem and wipe away the need for services tailored to the industry, such as CanPay. But Congress has so far failed to pass — or even seriously consider — a law that would reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance or allow banks and credit unions to work with businesses without risking their charters.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat who proposed a bill on the issue this year, says no action is expected anytime soon.

    Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Wisconsin Governor Walker’s Plan to Drug Test Food Stamp Applicants Would Be Wasteful, Ineffective and Perhaps Unconstitutional

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:03
Click here for reuse options! It's yet another attempt to stigmatize and criminalize people living in poverty.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced plans this week to move forward with making Wisconsin the first U.S. state to drug test people applying for food stamps.

We’ve been down this road before. Several states have attempted to drug test people applying for public assistance, yet in each case it has proven to be costly, ineffective, and often unconstitutional.

Disproportionately impacting the poor and communities of color, Walker’s proposal stigmatizes people who seek public assistance and perpetuates the dangerous, baseless notion that low-income people and communities of color are somehow less deserving and more likely to use drugs.

If Governor Walker really wants to help people struggling with problematic drug use, he could start by investing in accessible and evidence-based rehabilitation and treatment programs in Wisconsin. According to a report from Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, less than 23% of people who need addiction treatment in Wisconsin receive it.

And Walker’s clearly neither interested in saving his state money – drug testing public assistance recipients costs the government more money than it saves -- nor investing in treatment.

And there’s a big catch: The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. Police or other state authorities must have probable cause before they can search an individual person. And they must establish that probable cause before a judge who then issues a warrant.

Governor Scott Walker appears to believe that applying for food stamps is probable cause to assume that all able-bodied adult applicants have committed a crime and therefore should be subjected to drug tests and then be given the choice to go into rehab or go hungry should they test positive.

But this assumes three things. First, that anyone who tests positive for drugs is engaged in problematic drug use and unable to hold a job. Second, that a drug test can distinguish between therapeutic use of a drug under the supervision the health care system versus personal use for some other reasons outside the supervision of the health care system. Third, anyone who tests positive for drugs should be pressured into rehabilitation or treatment.

None of these assumptions stand up to science.  Some people use drugs and alcohol on an occasional basis and are totally functional and able to hold down and even excel at work. Studies have consistently shown over decades that problematic use is limited to a small fraction of people who use drugs. Second, drug tests identify drug usage, not addiction, and most positive tests simply identify marijuana use. Third, even if a drug test could identify only those people whose use of drugs is problematic, coerced treatment is much less effective than voluntary treatment, not to mention a violation of individual autonomy and human rights.

So let’s call this policy out for what it is: yet another attempt to stigmatize and criminalize people living in poverty and, in particular, poor communities of color.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.


Click here for reuse options!  Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Will Cannabis Replace Opioids as Painkillers?

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 12:15
The debate continues over whether cannabis is a viable alternative.

With America caught in the throes of the opioid epidemic, researchers and drugmakers alike continue to suggest that the answer lies in marijuana-based painkillers. In fact, a number of studies also hint that medical cannabis might be the magic bullet everyone is looking for.

Not so fast, some key experts said at the Forbes Healthcare Summit. Dr. Tom Frieden, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under President Obama, leveled sharp criticism at the idea of marijuana replacing opioids as viable painkillers. Frieden, who now spearheads the non-profit Resolve to Save Lives—a $225 million, five-year global health campaign—was quick to say medical marijuana won’t end the crisis.

“The huge problem with legalization is that in the current legal context of the U.S., if you legalize a product you cannot restrict its market, and what we’re looking at is the prospect of having Big Tobacco paralleled by Big Marijuana actively promoting marijuana use,” Frieden said. “It could be very harmful for some people and some communities. That said, there may be a role for some individuals, and obviously this is a tough issue.”

Currently legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, medical marijuana continues to grow and expand in the U.S. As such, drug companies like GW Pharmaceuticals and Cara Therapeutics are actively looking to exploit marijuana as a less harmful alternative to opioids, Forbes piece said.

Yet there aren’t enough research studies to prove that it’s a sustainable solution. At the summit, the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s deputy director Wilson Compton observed that the studies that do exist tend to be too few and far between. “While it looks like there’s a general signal, we don’t know who the marijuana, or the cannabinoids within the plant, might be useful for,” Compton said. “And that’s where I think research needs to move.”

Compton echoes the stance of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which still considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug, defined as having no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.

“Could marijuana be a life raft out of this sea of painkillers?” AC Shilton asked in Vice storyfrom earlier this year. Using Tennessee as an example, the writer examined how the state maintains that marijuana is illegal in every application while lawmakers vote against limiting opioid prescriptions even while record numbers of overdoses happen under their watch.

“It's a life raft with a slow leak at best,” Shilton considered, though “a leaky raft starts to look pretty appealing” when it comes to the opioid epidemic. Still, it’s not so much the research that’s confounding as it is all the legalities around marijuana, which are “confusing, especially for medical professionals.”

All that red tape means that continuing marijuana research is, at best, a nightmare to secure federal research money. (Interestingly, the Vice piece notes that “it’s easier to score research grants if your hypothesis is one testing the negative impacts of [marijuana].”)

We shouldn’t let red tape tangle up marijuana’s potential as a painkiller, Andrew Kolodny told attendees at the healthcare summit. Kolodny, the co-director of Brandeis University’s Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, thinks medical pot isn’t a perfect solution—but it’s something.

“If I had a patient who was suffering from severe intractable pain and had tried everything, I would sooner try marijuana on a patient than heroin,” he said. “When you are prescribing opioids, you are essentially giving them heroin.”

And given that 60,000 Americans died from drug-related overdoses last year alone, it seems irresponsible to not try everything possible to save lives.


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds

Medical Marijuana Patients Are Being Told to Give Up Their Guns

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 12:12
Authorities in Pennsylvania and Hawaii are cracking down on medical marijuana users who own firearms.

Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. now allow patients to have access to medical marijuana, but some of these patients are bumping up against a federal law that prohibits the sale of guns to people who use marijuana. 

Authorities in Pennsylvania and Hawaii have spoken out last week, declaring that people who have medical marijuana licenses in those states will need to give up access to firearms. 

The decisions are tied to a 50-year-old law, which was upheld in a Supreme Court ruling last year. 

“The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits anyone from possessing guns if they use or are addicted to cannabis,” Christopher Morales, a California criminal defense attorney, told Leafly. The law forbids people who use federally restricted substances from owning firearms, even if the substances they use are legal in the state that they reside in. 

A Nevada medical marijuana patient challenged the law after she was denied the right to buy a firearm because of her medical marijuana card. Last September the Supreme Court ruled that it is not a violation of the Second Amendment for states to deny gun ownership to people who use medical marijuana. 

"It is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior,” justices wrote in the ruling. 

Last week the Honolulu Police Department sent letters to medical marijuana users saying that they will need to turn in their weapons within 30 days of receipt. 

“Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you from ownership of firearms and ammunition,” the letter said, according to a copy obtained by Leafly. The letter went on to say that the medical marijuana patients would need a doctor’s clearance to get their firearms back. 

[Editor's Note: Faced with a wave of criticism, the Honolulu Police are now reviewing that policy.]

In Pennsylvania, authorities made a similar proclamation. 

"So in fact an individual who is issued a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania who is a user of medical marijuana, that individual would be prohibited from purchasing or technically possession of a firearm under federal law," Major Scott C. Price, Pennsylvania state police director of the Bureau of Records and Identification, said Tuesday, according to Lehigh Valley Live

Federal authorities agreed. 

"There are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana used for medicinal or recreational purposes," said Special Agent Joshua E. Jackson, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, D.C.

Medical marijuana licenses come up on background checks, but 22% of gun sales take place between unlicensed sellers who are not required to conduct background checks, according to Leafly


 Related Stories
Categories: News Feeds